DYS National Initiatives and Best Practices

The Massachusetts Department of Youth Services participates in various national initiatives that collect and use data to evaluate various aspects of juvenile justice program and service delivery models.

National Initiatives

The Massachusetts Department of Youth Services participates in various national initiatives that collect and use data to evaluate various aspects of juvenile justice program and service delivery models. We do this with the goal of improving services, expanding the use of programs that are proven to be successful, and supporting the end of outdated and ineffective practices in juvenile justice. Below is a listing of some of the major initiatives DYS currently participates in.

Special Commissions on Criminal Justice

The Massachusetts Department of Youth Services participates in the Pew-McArthur Results First Initiative, and the Governor Working Group to review the criminal justice system.  The Department rigorously emphasizes the use of data to compare the costs and long-term benefits when analyzing a variety of DYS programs and policies.  Consistent with Massachusetts Commission on Criminal Justice and Results First guidelines, DYS seeks to expand its use of measuring data to expand evidence-based practices, increase effective spending, reduce crime, and improve both youth outcomes and public safety.  

As part of the consortium of criminal and juvenile justice experts, DYS is working to:

  • Target funding toward evidence-based criminal justice programs.
  • Educate policymakers on the high cost of recidivism.
  • Enhance collaboration among criminal justice agencies.

Click here to view video: DYS Commissioner on Using Data to Deliver Results.

Performance based Standards (PbS)

DYS and 31 other states participate in the national Performance based Standards initiative which promotes facility based practices that support quality standards of care and enhanced safety for youth and staff. Data is collected and evaluated twice per year. Recently, 9 out of the 12 DYS programs participating in PbS achieved the top rating (Level 4) and the remaining 3 programs achieved Level 3.  DYS has distinguished itself in a number of PbS practice areas including: family engagement, limited use of room confinement and positive staff and youth reports of safety in their program environments.   Performance-based Standards in Juvenile Justice

Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative

The Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (“JDAI”) is a national systems-reform initiative working to improve the detention component of the juvenile justice system.   Massachusetts JDAI is using data to guide decision making in terms of diagnosing the system’s problems and biases and to assess the impact of various reforms. Massachusetts has made significant progress in implementing the JDAI Core Strategies (collaboration, use of accurate data, objective admissions, new or enhanced non-secure alternatives, case processing reform, special detention cases, reducing racial disparities, and improving conditions of confinement) and has seen a dramatic drop in detention admissions since it was implemented in 2007. For example, the foster care program in Worcester that has achieved strong positive outcomes (100% of the youth in this pilot have been available for their court appearance). The program team was awarded the 2013 Manuel Carballo award for exemplary public service.

Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA)

Federal legislation passed in 2012 required states to come into compliance with a comprehensive set of standards focused on safety from sexual assault for all people confined in correctional settings which includes youth confined in DYS secure and residential facilities. In 2014, DYS completed the first round of PREA audits and achieved the highest rating of “compliance” in all programs reviewed. In a follow-up letter, the PREA auditor opined that the “DYS commitment to PREA …to implement PREA compliance across the full spectrum of services providers (state operated programs and contract vendor providers) was second to none… All used the same language, knew the same policies and procedures, received the same high quality training and had the same commitment to keeping youth safe.  These outstanding efforts are, in my professional opinion, making youth committed to DYS some of the safest youth in the country in terms of protection from sexual violence.” 

National recognition for DYS initiatives and practices:

The DYS Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgender, Queer and Intersex (“LGBTQI”) policy on the Prohibition of Harassment and Discrimination of Youth and practices have been recognized nationally as the most comprehensive to-date.  GLAD, a non-profit legal rights organization in the United States, gave praise to the Department for "not only doing the right thing on paper, but working collaboratively to adopt a policy and guidelines it can operationalize in real-life contexts." The Center for American Progress has also credited DYS for creating "a blueprint for ensuring fairness, safety, and supportive treatment of LGBT Youth in the Juvenile Justice System."

The DYS Worcester Secure Treatment program received the Barbara Allen-Hagen award at a ceremony in Chicago. This national accolade is awarded annually to a juvenile “correctional” program that demonstrates high quality care and innovation. The Worcester program was singled out in part because of their effective family engagement effort.

The DYS training academy staff received an award from the national Partnership for Juvenile Services; Juvenile Justice Trainers Council for the implementation of a new and innovative restraint training technique. Symposium | National Partnership for Juvenile Services

Involuntary Room Confinement policy: DYS has received national interest in our Involuntary Room Confinement policy. Several states, journals and organizations have expressed interest in the positive shift that DYS has made away from the practice of punitive room confinement. In 2014, a team from New York City Rikers Island adolescent facility spent a few days at several DYS facilities observing our best practices, learning from DYS staff and our youth engagement strategy. Mother JonesThis is What Happens When We Lock Children in Solitary Confinement

Best Practices

DYS uses a series of validated instruments to assess risk and need for the young people it serves.  An agency guiding principle is “the right youth in the right place for the right reason.”  This enables us to provide programming based on the individual youth and to reserve the most restrictive and most costly placements for the youth who pose the highest risk.  The Department uses the following tools:

The Youth Level of Service/Case Management Inventory (YLS/CMI) is a standardized evidence based risk assessment tool that provides a foundation for effective case management. The tool was developed by Dr. D.A. Andrews and Dr. R.D. Hoge and is utilized in decision making related to level of care, supervision, placement and treatment planning and interventions. The instrument identifies risk, need, and responsivity factors as well as strengths and protective factors. The DYS Caseworker incorporates the data into a holistic plan that builds on strengths and addresses areas related to recidivism thereby enhancing success and preventing future delinquent/criminal behavior.

The Massachusetts Youth Screening Instrument (MAYSI) was developed by Dr. Thomas Grisso and Dr. Richard Barnum to assist in identifying young people in the juvenile justice system with special mental health needs.  DYS administers the MAYSI to every youth admitted to one of its residential or secure programs to help identify youth who may be at risk for self-harm. The MAYSI is used in most jurisdictions nationally.

The Global Appraisal of Individual Needs (GAIN) is administered to all newly committed youth during the assessment process.  The GAIN is administered in two steps, all youth participate in the initial GAIN-Short Screen to assess risk for substance abuse, and when youth are identified with risk for substance abuse, the more comprehensive follow-up, the GAIN-I, is used to develop a more complete picture of the risk areas.  Once the assessment is completed, young people are identified as fitting into a Prevention or Treatment track for services.  The majority of DYS youth meet the criteria for treatment services which focus on a harm reduction model, using group counseling and testing as recommended by their clinician.   Most DYS youth report marijuana as their drug of choice. 

As part of our work with the Annie E. Casey Foundation on the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, DYS has instituted an objective screening tool to inform placement decisions for all new bail admissions.  Implementing a screening tool is a Casey best practice.  The Detention Placement Instrument (DPI) is designed to impact racial and ethnic disparities through its reliance on objective criteria to separate youth by risk, and inform placement decisions to decrease the impact of “peer contagion.” 

DYS strives to use best practices in the services we deliver to our youth and to adopt structured decision-making practices and tools towards objective and consistent decision-making.  The following services or approaches are considered to meet national best practice standards for proven-risk young people:

Motivational Interviewing (MI) is a collaborative conversation to strengthen a person’s own motivation for and commitment to change. It is a technique that offers a person-centered approach to fostering change by helping a person explore and resolve ambivalence — they don’t like what they are doing but don’t know how to change. Rather than providing directives and applying external pressure, Motivational Interviewing helps youth find their own reasons for change and helps them think differently about their choices. DYS has trained segments of our workforce in the principles of Motivational Interviewing to use the technique to have more effective conversations with youth.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is a trauma-informed, cognitive behavioral therapy.  It provides counseling and skill development that focuses on participants increasing their ability to manage emotional dysregulation and behavior. Originally focused on self-injurious and suicidal youth, DBT has been adapted for use in a juvenile justice population as most youth in the juvenile justice system share a common profile that includes a history of traumatic events, an inability to manage emotions and physically acting-out behavior.  DYS offers DBT in all of its residential programs in a group format, supplemented by individual therapy.

Parenting with Love and Limits (PLL) is an evidence-based program that combines a 6-week parent education and group therapy program with 4 or more individual "coaching" (family therapy) sessions for adolescents and their parents. PLL is designed for youth between 10 and 18 with extreme emotional or behavioral problems.  PLL has been offered as a pilot in one of the DYS Regions and is scheduled to expand across the Department as a best practice in engaging families of youth.

Positive Youth Development is a comprehensive way of thinking about the development of children and youth and the factors that facilitate or impede their individual growth and their achievement of key developmental stages.  The array of concepts known as Positive Youth Development emerged from several decades of research on adolescence through the lens of problems and deficits. Recently, studies reveal that most youth manage to thrive and develop even in the face of multiple environmental stresses.  Michael Rutter and others began to look at the idea of resiliency to describe healthy development in the face of adversity.  Given the vision of DYS is ‘Every young person served by DYS will become a valued, productive member of their community and lead a fulfilling life’, the concept of resiliency informs our work.   Positive Youth Development is not a particular technique, but a framework with recommended activities and approaches which provide opportunities for young people to practice skills in the important domains.

Education.  The Department of Youth Services identifies education as the major protective factor in supporting young people in making positive changes and remaining crime-free.  A recent joint report by the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice provides guiding principles for ensuring the provision of high-quality education in juvenile justice settings. The report cites these core principles: maintenance of a facility-wide climate that prioritizes education; provision of necessary funding to support educational opportunities for youth in secure settings that are comparable to non-system-involved youth; recruitment, training and retention of qualified educational staff; provision of rigorous curricula that aligns with state academic standards and promotes college-and career-readiness; and preparation of young people to return to the community successfully.  DYS Educational Services standards follow the national recommendations.

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